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NO one who has used the stairwell of a parking garage downtown or wandered into a back lane there can be ignorant of a sad reality of street life -- any dim corner or out-of-the-way place can, in desperation, sit in for a toilet. The smell of urine in some spots can be overwhelming. It is a symptom not just of the city's need for better social services, but of a more immediate, practical neglect. Downtown Winnipeg should have adequate public facilities to tend to the needs of the homeless, tourists and shoppers as well.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/11/2007 (5436 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NO one who has used the stairwell of a parking garage downtown or wandered into a back lane there can be ignorant of a sad reality of street life — any dim corner or out-of-the-way place can, in desperation, sit in for a toilet. The smell of urine in some spots can be overwhelming. It is a symptom not just of the city’s need for better social services, but of a more immediate, practical neglect. Downtown Winnipeg should have adequate public facilities to tend to the needs of the homeless, tourists and shoppers as well.

Architect Wins Bridgman faces this symptom of neglect regularly, having bought the Dominion Bank building at the corner of Main and Higgins last December. The bac klanes, his building’s front steps and Main Street itself have all been used as a public toilet, which is demeaning to the desperate and a turnoff for pedestrians and shoppers. It is a blight that makes downtown revitalization a tough go. It is also unnecessary and a shame to the city.

Mr. Bridgman sent a letter to the mayor, noting there are classy designs for stand-alone, self-contained public toilets, and he suggests a vacant lot at Higgins and Main is a good site for one. The Bridgman letter includes a suggestion of a multi-toilet structure that houses toilets similar to the porta-potties used at outdoor public events. But there is a variety of designs and distributors to choose from, including the elegant-looking, privately operated units that grace the sidewalks of Paris, New York and Vancouver. They can be coin- or token-operated and have a time-limited use, which can dissuade people from abusing or misusing them as places for sex, shooting up or sleeping. Automated, they are sanitized between uses and serviced by the manufacturer under contract.

The privately operated options are not cheap. The multi-unit structure Mr. Bridgman suggested may invite misuse. These are only the obvious considerations of making public toilets a feature of the streets. They are a far sight better than the dreary bunker-like structure recently razed from the corner of Broadway and Memorial, or the intimidating underground public washrooms downtown in a much earlier time. The fact is that not having public toilets is a considerable inconvenience to those visiting downtown, an affront to the dignity of those most in need and a public health issue. The consequences are an embarrassment to Winnipeggers. It is the city’s responsibility to ensure such facilities exist. It must answer the call.

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